Service of Too Complicated

October 4th, 2012

Categories: Automobiles, Complicated, Technology


New York morning drive radio personality John Gambling loves cars, is a NASCAR fan and from hearing his conversation over the years has owned his share of, I would suspect, mostly if not exclusively luxury autos. My ears perked up when he admitted, in September, that the new Fisker–an electric car–was too complicated for him to drive.

fiskerkarmaThe Fisker Karma was introduced last December and it has won all sorts of awards. According to a press release about it: “The Fisker Karma is the only American car to win the Top Gear Luxury Car of the Year award; Automobile magazine named the Karma its Design of the Year; TIME magazine listed the Karma as one of its 50 Best Inventions; the Fisker Karma also received an Edison Award for Innovation and is a finalist in Fast Company’s Innovation by Design competition.”

All nice, but what’s the point if it’s too complicated for a car-enthusiast to drive?

bellsandwhistlesSimilarly, my nephew, who owns an auto body shop and has flirted with, owned and loved countless cars over the years, and knows them inside out, just bought a 2010 BMW-in perfect shape. He volunteered, as we sat in the lap of his luxurious leather seats, that he’d have to go to school to figure out all its bells and whistles.

So for who are these vehicles designed?

When it comes to cars, I’ve never opted for luxury [NYC roads and garages make mincemeat of them] and as long as I know how to turn on the AC, the heat and the radio, lock and unlock the door and put the gear in “drive,” I’m set. With cheap cars it’s been easy up until now. Fingers crossed.

It’s not only cars that daunt and are overcomplicated. I admit dreading something I must face: buying a new office computer. It will take a few weeks to find anything in it and I can look forward to learning to do in six steps what now takes me one. I should be excited at the thought of a new computer, not overwhelmed and dismayed, but my experience sends out warning signals.

Would you pay more for simple versions of the many things we rely on? Why don’t manufacturers take note?


6 Responses to “Service of Too Complicated”

  1. Debby Brown Said:

    My vacuum cleaner came with an 80 page instruction booklet…that was the English section. My phone: with “set up” instructions that no where explained various abbreviations needed to get the phone working. It was assumed I already was familiar with the lingo. I won’t even go into the literature that accompanied new kitchen appliances. And then there’s the car’s voluminous “Owner’s Manual” but that’s another story.

    In answer to your query, YES! I would happily pay more for the easy-to-use, quick set-up, no- frills models. Do I think this will ever happen? No. Because the technology is changing so rapidly and embraced by all who have grown up with it. That said, there is a expanding market of affluent aging baby boomers that would welcome, and willingly pay for, as you state, the “simple version” without the bells and whistles.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I agree about aging baby boomers but my nephew isn’t any old baby boomer–he’s a middling boomer who has been in the car world for years!!! Gambling has sons in their late 20s/early 30s, one an engineer. They keep him up to speed.

    And my guess is that young people can’t afford a lot of this stuff so I repeat: can’t fathom for whom all this stuff is made.

  3. Horace Peabody Said:

    A post after my own heart! Yes! Absolutely! I would pay at least double for any useful gadget that actually worked as it was supposed to without having an MIT graduate student at the helm and was designed for use by physically inept old men with the shakes.

    Your talk about fancy new cars and all the new nonsense they come lumbered with brought back a fond personal memory of a vacation in France with my wife a few years back.

    When we rented a car in Paris to drive south, we were upgraded against our will – the gas costs much more for expensive cars — to a very fancy speedy looking model like you see movie stars drive, and when we got into the thing, I nervously noticed that the top speed on the speedometer, like on an airplane, was more than 300 kilometers an hour.

    My wife drove because she likes to drive, and I settled in for the ride. That vehicle was so gloriously comfortable that I was asleep in no time. By the time I woke up an hour or so later, we were far south of the city seemingly floating on a magnificent half-empty superhighway in the midst of glorious countryside, which was quickly, quietly passing by. I looked down at the speedometer, but it was so peaceful that fortunately I didn’t panic from the images it brought flashing before my eyes of gendarmes and jail cells, mega-Franc traffic tickets and bankruptcy court bailiffs.
    I calmly said to her, “Do you know how fast you are going?”

    She replied, “No. You know I’ve never been any good at converting metric into English.”

    Again with measured quietness, I answered, “Well, You’d better slow down a lot or there will be big trouble.” When she got it down to about 70 mph, I told her that she had been going considerably faster than Lindbergh flew when he crossed the Atlantic.

    I still think that that car maker ought to have been shot for having put that needlessly lethal machine on the road, but my wife loved it, which I guess is why he did.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I enjoyed your story–felt as though I was there! But your wife had only to press down on the gas pedal and maneuver a well-made car. She didn’t have to get a five minute lecture from the rental agent just to figure out how to start the thing.

    I’m sure that Debby’s vacuum cleaner and telephone work better than anything she’s ever encountered, which is a plus. But what isn’t so hot is that unlike the speedy European car, to get these gizmos to work takes time. I’m infuriated that manufacturers don’t take this into account. Service to customers=ZERO.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    Much of the answer depends whether the cost of simplifying is worth it, or is it better just to sit down and learn. Many of the things which appear so complex at first, aren’t, and become even easier to deal with than the “old” and more familiar model. Many people avoid new things because of fright. What ever happened to old fashioned curiosity?

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’d say speed is what’s happened to the old fashioned curiosity. Clients don’t want to hear that I missed deadlines because I couldn’t find where their images and press releases are hidden in my computer. I think of relay races at the Olympics whether on the ground or in the pool….there’s no downtime to learn.

    Having borrowed my husband’s computer–a new one–I see no improvements associated with the extra steps.

    Nobody moves faster than my nephew who has his business and five or more projects going at the same time–and with all that he’s juggling, he doesn’t have time to sit and figure things out. Further, he’s said to me that things in cars are far more complicated than they need to be.

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